Sunday, October 29, 2006

New Jerusalem (4th part)

Part of the story which has been originally published in “1999” under the title “Novi Jerusalem”, Ljubljana, Zagreb; pp. 63-65; 117-118, © Borislav Pekic; English translation © Bernard Johnson.

for 5th part HERE

And so far, they had not been able to resist him nor disrupt him from carrying out any of his actions however much wrong it was.

Dungeon They could express their displeasure only by trying to persuade him, (and here he was immune, here he was protected by his own truth, the rat in man’s embrace), or by the inefficient execution of archaeological tasks, not formulated in unambiguous orders, something that, because of his absent-mindedness, he was sometimes prone to.

Before he had become aware of such dirty tricks, fifty years had passed, during which time his scientific results because of such obstruction had been poor. Now he got round them by not only concentrating on the content but also on the form of the commands which he gave in connection with excavations or the technique of conservation.

It no longer happened that undoubtedly with treacherous premeditation, and not by unfortunate accidents as he had supposed, that one of extremely rare written proofs of the superiority of the frozen New Jerusalem’s civilization over the mutants’ was destroyed simply because he had been imprecise in his instructions regarding the method of the document’s restoration,

Luckily, one document, evidently a form of regulation or proclamation had not been totally spoilt. The robots strove for perfection, but they were not yet perfect. Otherwise there would not have been any documents left. As it was, there remained the final part of a sentence which was important, may be even crucial, for the correct interpretation of the “frozen” way of thought.

From it the concept of life in New Jerusalem stood out with hologrammatic vividness and clarity.

He had spent several years on the translation of the preserved sentence into his own language, after being confronted with numerous semantic difficulties, quite unavoidable when trying to explain the concept of one language by the concepts of a completely opposite, which above all one could not understand, since in the present world nothing corresponds neither in reality nor in memory.

But it had been worth it. Transcribed, the fragment of the sentence said:


If he had not already dug up the wonderful skeleton, if he had not known what was in the cellar, even if it had been successfully translated, the sentence would have remained unclear.

“Sending into the cellar” without rats would have had no sense. In the cellar fortunately were rats.

Moles too. And there had also been found a frozen nests of lice and fleas, charming little creatures; the first calm and inactive, the second of a more lively and mischievous habits, plebeian temperament, which, it seemed, the members of the ZEK species - that was how the New Jerusalem people had called themselves - bred as domestic pets and companions and even kept on their own bodies, going nowhere without them.)

The combined skeletons of man, rat and mole, with the aforementioned nests of noble sub-cultures, depicted for him unambiguously as actual eye-witnesses the system of mutual relationships desirable in the New Jerusalem civilization and perhaps the summit of an ideal condition.

He was however conscious of the fact that as a scientist he always had to be careful and not rush ahead with premature conclusions.

For it was not out of the question that in the still uninvestigated regions of the planet, somewhere in the south, west or east, might be a preserved still more advanced New Jerusalem, a still more perfect form of human happiness as a result of friendship with rats, fleas and moles.

In any case “sending into the cellar amongst the rats” could not be evaluated, if he wanted to remain a scientist, according to the present understanding about them (which as part of an obscure nature is rejected) outside the context of already established criteria for happiness in that community.

In that way it could have only two logical meanings:

that to be sent into the cellar was especially good for whoever was sent there, but, for unknown reasons, it could be enjoyed for only a limited period of time, in this particular instance – fourteen days. (Later he found proofs that the community with rats could last even for years.)

The explanation, although logically irreproachable, did not satisfy him. There was something unnatural in it. It was as if the good that came out of it were - a privilege. A definite priority which was not given to all and which had to be merited in some way, in some special way, to which, evidently, had been dedicated the first, now lost part of the sentence.

The New Jerusalem man had been sent to the cellar as a reward, and not because, even though for a short term, the pleasure in the exclusive company of rats was his natural right. And that, once again logically, contradicted the proven ideal nature of New Jerusalem.

A community where the good was not general, innate, an unalienable right, but which could be attained by and depended on human actions, which could, but did not have to be enjoyed, was not ideal, although it could be orientated towards perfection if there were continually more and more individuals in possession of that good, (brotherhood with rats), and less and less of those who were deprived of it.

But the New Jerusalem community, the world of Gulag in general, as the inhabitants of this archipelago have been called – pointing probably to that meaning of the term that people of the proto-language attributed to the word “heaven” and “Eden” – had been ideal. All his other primary and secondary archeological finds had indicated that. In it life was good (the life with rats) only generally and given to all equally by naturalization of citizenship, the same as has been in the primitive society of that period where you acquire the right to take part in electing a bad government.


Their material culture had been almost non-existent. Obviously a residue of barbarism. Its rudimentary forms (dilapidated wooden huts, uncomfortable ramshackle beds, chairs which nowadays would be used only for torture), had been kept, it seemed, only to remind the people of New Jerusalem of the senseless burden from which they had been released when their aspirations had been directed towards more virtuous and pure spirituality. Sometime also as a symbol. (The barbed wire – a symbol of inseparable community.)

Their food had been puritan. There had been clear efforts on the whole community to eat as little as possible. Supposition of a high probability: in an attempt for the conditions of metabolism to be entirely transferred to paranormal forces and for man to be finally fried from his physical nature.

That of course had been an ideal which was difficult, if not impossible to realize. But nevertheless, he had evidence to show that many of the ZEKs abstained from food for days on end in order to quicken that elate state.


Work in that world is one of the great contributions to humanity. In the mutant world it was carried out by cybernet, and always had some purpose. In New Jerusalem, work had no meaning, and no purpose, except for its own sake, and hence it arrived at that profoundest hidden sense which all civilizations, both before and after New Jerusalem’s had sought for in vain.

The sense of work was therefore exclusively in the work itself and nothing else. Temporary and periodical benefits were no more than its chance by-product. I am not sure, I have not enough facts, if those sporadic gains are covering some real needs of that, in all other aspects satisfied, community – and that in itself would be self-contradictory –

or whether it was the usual error and the technical omissions in the corresponding activity. When they were building a house, which was sometimes even finished, was this the result of some remnant need or a sad failure.

(Commentary: It was simply incredible that the wisdom of all those successive human civilizations, like a blind man next to a full bowl, had overlooked the simple, almost simplistic and obvious conclusion that work could only have a sense if it realized it within itself, and it could realize it within itself only if it was senseless.)

for 5th part HERE

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